Delivering Supported Employment during a pandemic.

Lucy Pearson, Delivery Manager for ENABLE Works Edinburgh and the Lothians.

When we started 2020, it felt just like any of the previous 5 years of All in Edinburgh – our team had caseloads of 20 people they supported individually, the job market was booming with post-Christmas recruitment and I was having weekly team meetings face to face! We were delivering Disability Awareness Training with employers across the capital city, in their businesses with large groups of their teams discussing the diversification of their workforce.

Fast forward six months in a global pandemic, and it is hard to believe how the world around us has changed, yet All in Edinburgh has continued to deliver Supported Employment.

Every year, All in Edinburgh supports hundreds of disabled people to find work, keep work and make progressions in their career. In pre-COVID19 times, our Employment Coordinators met people in person in community spaces across the city – supporting them to apply for a variety of jobs in a flourishing economy, prepare for interviews and when successful, support them to become independent by working alongside them on the job.

Normally, this is through job coaching, which is unique to Supported Employment practice – our team of qualified practitioners head into a workplace, learn the job role themselves and coach a person to develop those skills themselves – at no extra time or expense to the employer!

All in Edinburgh prides itself on fidelity to the Supported Employment model, recognised internationally as best practice, and in which the service is completely tailored to the individual needs of each person making it as accessible and supportive as possible. This successful model has allowed All in Edinburgh to support over 750 people into employment in just under 6 years.

So, because of that individualised element of our support, when we went into lockdown at the end of March, we had to act fast to ensure we could still support disabled people and employers during the months to follow.

Of course, those people supported by All in Edinburgh not only face barriers to employment – they also face social isolation, risks to their own financial security and benefits and lots of people we support were designated within the COVID-19 shielding category. 

The pandemic also heightened the levels of digital poverty disabled people in Scotland face, with an urgent increase in demand for digital skills support and training from people who just wanted to connect with friends and family, let alone employment support.

So, in those first few weeks in April, All in Edinburgh developed a 4 week emergency response plan to provide a unique support plan for each person we supported.

Our team worked tirelessly to complete hundreds of foodbank referrals, digital poverty assessments and skills training, grant applications to access digital equipment and support for people to access City of Edinburgh Council’s crisis grant applications.

As well, All in Edinburgh continued to deliver our welfare rights service, which focused on helping people understand and declare changes to earning as a result of furlough and sudden unemployment ensuring their welfare support payments did not get reduced.

All in Edinburgh is a consortium of 4 partners (ENABLE Scotland, Into Work, Forth Sector and The Action Group) and in true consortium spirit, our frontline team have used the virtual working time to connect with each other more regularly, sharing best practice and helping each other – working remotely has allowed us to pull together 40 frontline workers at a touch of a button without having to factor in travel time across Edinburgh, or getting a room big enough for us all to fit in! This time has also allowed our staff to facilitate social groups for clients virtually, allowing friendships to form via a peer support network.

Whilst the local job market has greatly reduced, All in Edinburgh has continued to support people into employment – albeit with job coaching now being delivered remotely via regular digital session.

Initially, we saw several people secure Key Worker Roles in retail, care and food chain supply and now we’re starting to see more and more employers come to us for partnership in finding talented staff – for example, we’ve partnered with the new Company Shop in Wester Hailes, matching talented disabled people with posts in their new team.

We have also helped HR managers across a variety of sectors in Edinburgh to facilitate complex furlough processes and, unfortunately, some of the inevitable redundancies that will come with the recession. Through reaching out to All in Edinburgh though, we’ve been able to ensure disabled employees access their full rights, are given support apply for other roles and get with their finances and income management from our welfare rights team.

Whilst we are operating remotely by default, there have also been occasions where we have had a welfare concern for a client or an employer has required us to meet them in person, in these cases we risk assess and carry out a face to face meeting, following all government guidelines.

I know there is still a lot of uncertainty around the job market as we head into the winter months, but with the values and determination of our frontline team, I am certain that All in Edinburgh will continue to lead a high quality service to those who need it the most.